Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Distant transfer of knowledge

Originally uploaded by Rory Finneren
I blogged a few days ago about knowledge transfer through time and space, and promised in that blog to talk about the most difficult of the transfer contexts, which I called Distant Transfer (really because it is close to Nancy Dixon's "Far Transfer" from her book "Common Knowledge"

Distant transfer is a challenge because the opportunity for tacit knowledge transfer is minimal. Much of the transfer will therefore need to be done through captured and structured knowledge.

Here we have several problems. The knowledge needs to come from someone who may not be aware of what they know, translated into a format in which will inevitably lose a lot of its power and value, and transferred to someone who is unaware of what she needs to know. You cannot rely on her interrogating a database to find the knowledge she needs, when she is blissfully unaware of what she needs. She could not search for it, as she does not know what to search for.

For this transfer to stand any chance of working, the knowledge needs to be captured carefully (as described here), and packaged in such a way that the user can learn what she needs to know, even if she doesn't know what she needs to know. The way in which this knowledge is presented and structured is crucial. If it is not customer focused - if it does not give the future knowledge user what you are sure she needs to know, rather than what she thinks she wants to know - then the real knowledge does not get transferred, and so does not get applied.

I used to use the analogy of knowledge packaged for Distant Transfer as being like a Frozen Pizza. Here the ingredients have been assembled, packaged, and preserved. The user needs to do none of the work - other than defrosting and consuming. You aren't relying on the user to seek out and assemble all the pieces (given that she doesn't know what she needs) - you are presenting it to her ready-complete.

This packaged knowledge - these frozen pizzas - are what we refer to as Knowledge Assets

We have found these to be far and away the most effective means of Distant Transfer. However it places the onus on the creators of the knowledge, or the owners of the knowledge base (such as the SMEs) to do the packaging (and the Retrospect process leads naturally to packaged knowledge) so the knowledge user is given what they need to know, whether they are aware of that need or not.

To make this knowledge exciting, enticing, easy to read and easy to assimilate, is a skill. You want something better than another dull report. The knowledge needs to be presented in bite-sized chunks, in an intuitive way, illustrated with diagrams and pictures, and easily cross referenced. Whether you use a wiki, a website, or a word document to create the knowledge asset, it needs to be fully user-centric, and carefully structured, rather than thrown together. Ensure that your knowledge management approach includes this packaging step if Distant Transfer is needed. It takes time, it requires resources, it's one step removed from pure "user generated content" as it requires an organisation and structuring step, but without this step, you stand a good chance of failing to transfer some of the key detail.

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